Hosting friends, ranch style…

We’ve had company for a couple weeks and it’s been lovely to have new faces around to marvel at a place that has started to look more like work than love lately.

I needed that.

Thanks friends. I miss you.

Appreciating this rugged, imperfect place

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They left me with a plate of Snickerdoodles, a fridge full of half-finished dips, opened bottles of white wine, sheets to be washed and a heart full and lonesome at the same time.

A group of eight of my friends made their way to the ranch from Colorado, Minnesota and eastern North Dakota last weekend, fulfilling our promise to get together once a year, no matter what, since we first met 11 years ago during a hot summer spent moving picnic tables and cutting pies at a performing arts school.

Since then the group has grown to include boyfriends, spouses, babies, dogs and a cat on a leash, which I’d never thought I’d see on this ranch in my life. But I did, thanks to the eclectic and brilliant group of people I was honored to host for a few days in our rugged little mess of a life out here, surrounded by cattle, horseflies and bats swooping against the backdrop of a black and starry sky.

It’s funny the way the familiarity of a home changes when it’s full of people you love, some of them who’ve never set foot on the place.

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Before they arrived all I could see was the unfinished trim, the landscaping I thought I’d have done by now and the complete lack of Good Housekeeping magazine touches. We spent a half a year with their visit on the calendar thinking maybe we’d at least get the basement bathroom done, because anyone with a house knows that it takes impending company to get a long-planned construction project done.

But then we ran into haying season and I was on my own with a pressure washer, a lawnmower and a garage full of tools to do what I could around here.

Needless to say, we’re gonna have to wait until Thanksgiving to think about that bathroom project again, but I obsessed over it all nonetheless, because I’m my mother’s child after all.

And then they arrived and you couldn’t see the floor or the counters anyway for all the food and toys and bodies scattered about, talking and laughing. And not one of my friends inspected the tops of my light fixtures for dust, because we were too busy telling stories, cutting onions for guacamole and taking hikes around the farmyard, where I got a chance to see our place through their eyes.

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That was another gift they gave me that weekend: a gift of appreciation for our home. They picked wildflowers and rocks and marveled at the things we’ve labeled burdens or works in progress, like the old farm equipment and tumbled down fences that need to be repaired. In the midst of the overwhelming feeling that summer ranch work brings, I loved them for it.

And now they’re gone, leaving this place feeling a little electric, pulsing from the conversations and dropped forks and baby kisses, like it needs a moment to come back down to the quiet chaos of the life we lead, sending our love to them from this rugged, imperfect place.

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A goat and a Lincoln

A Goat and a Lincoln: When Childhood Memories Turn Whimsical
3-12-17
by Jessie Veeder
http://www.inforum.com

Some days, when I feel like life hasn’t thrown me an adventure worthy enough of reflection, I like to dig back in the archives for a memory to recount, the way you do when you find yourself sitting around the table having a beer with old friends.

We all have our favorite go-to stories in times like these, the kind that work in mixed company, just off-kilter enough to reveal something about you to new friends while reminding old ones you were a younger girl and you once drove 30 miles in the car you borrowed from your best friend’s dad, to pick up a goat.

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That’s the story I’m thinking of today.

It’s funny how far your own memories can detach from you, making you a character in the plot line of a life you once led. Everyone seems to remind me of the “hold on tight to these memories” refrain now that I’m a mom, but I should have been warned more when I was kid to hold on to the part of my life where I was 14 and reckless and my best friend was beside me in her dad’s nineteen-seventy-something Lincoln. We were driving on the highway alone for the first time in our lives, feeling grown up and capable, with a late spring rain hitting the windshield, turning the scoria roads bright pink against a neon-green landscape …

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We used to listen to our dads swap stories around the kitchen table when we were children playing make believe in the other room. We would hear them talk about old times — cars with no seat belts, dirt bike ramps and no helmets, horses that bucked too hard — and I wondered if one day my childhood stories might sound as whimsical to my kids.

I didn’t have much real experience driving outside the prairie trails and back roads of the ranch. But my friend and I were getting ready for our first year in high school rodeo, and we thought we needed to get ourselves a goat to practice tying.

Now, I’m not sure what our parents were busy with that day, or why on earth they at least didn’t send us with one of the ranch pickups to take the 30-mile drive in the rain alone to buy a goat from the neighbor’s farm, but that’s the way it happened.

We were an innocent enough pair as far as young teenagers go, and I was born with enough old woman running through my veins that my parents were pretty confident I wouldn’t dare hit any speed higher than 55 … and anyway, the Lincoln couldn’t go much faster.

But, oh how quickly that old lady was driven out of my 14-year-old veins when the open road was before me and my best friend was beside me, and there was hardly another car on the road. My confidence was building with every mile and every mile-per-hour I got closer to the speed limit, until I turned off the highway and onto the church road and decided to really gas it to get a good splash out of that puddle.

That Lincoln jerked hard to the right, fishtailing on the gravel before ramping off the shoulder of the road then sliding down the slope of the ditch and coming to rest at the front of the deep mud trench it buried itself in next to a freshly planted field.

The world outside that old car evaporated as my friend and I stared silently and straight ahead for the moment we needed to evaluate if we were still alive.

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Once we found our breath, we found each other, sucked back a few tears, and then, eventually, found the spare tire in the trunk, just in time for one of the neighborhood grandpas to find us.

What a sight we must have been there — two soggy, pathetic kids standing in the rain and in the agonizing moments between freedom and a lesson.

But maybe not as much of a spectacle we must have been when we finally headed back home, slow and steady down the highway, wild and young and free, just two best friends and our goat standing on the backseat, popping his head up between us.

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The moral of the old friendship story

Some old friendship keep you young. I’ve been lucky enough to grow up witnessing that phenomenon, one  adventure and mishap after another.

Here’s this week’s column.

The moral of the old friendship story
1-29-17
by Jessie Veeder
http://www.InForum.com

We were all sitting around in the living room visiting about weather, politics and how Edie managed to get her second bloody nose in two days in church that morning when Dad came sneaking sort of quietly through the door, slipping off his snow boots and wool cap before shuffling down the hall and sliding into the chair.

The last time we saw him he was at the top of the neighbors’ sledding hill, brushing the snow off of his Carharts after a lightning speed solo trip on the orange toboggan.

His best friend just came back from the shop with his chainsaw to cut down a dead tree that he thought was in the way of the epic run they were building.

All the kids had already gone in the house due to frozen cheeks and my little sister and I, exhausted from a half hour of trying to save Edie from the ideas she had about running, unassisted and unafraid, down the sledding hill, decided we would all be safer and happier in my living room.

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And so that’s where we left him — grampa Gene with his best friend, neighbor and grampa himself, Kelly — alone with two other dads, a slick sledding hill, a stack of sleds and no supervision.

“I bet if Gene and I took that orange sled down this hill together we could get going ’bout 150,” I heard Kelly say as he walked up the hill behind me.

And so I called Dad. I knew he wouldn’t want to miss out on a chance to go 150.

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I should have known better, but neighbor Kelly is notorious for building epic escapades in the middle of an ordinary Sunday afternoon.

And in the winter, the go-to adventure is always their sledding hill, which is as meticulously cared for as an Olympic rated luge track.

“So, did you and Kelly go 150?” I asked Dad, thinking his unusual silence was a little suspicious.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “It was plenty fast.”

He sort of half-laughed the way a kid does when he’s holding on to something funny but knows giving in will undoubtedly mean having to explain himself.

Which is exactly what happened as he entered the living room scene, with my mom, little sister and husband all staring at him, knowing there was more to the story.

“What,” I said.

He scratched his head where his hat had been, making his silver, scruffy hair stand up straight and gave it up.

“Oh, it … it was bad,” he puffed. “Kelly got hurt. I don’t know …”

“What? How? Where?”

“Well, his arm I think. Think he tore a tendon. I don’t know … We tried snowboarding.”

“Dad!”

“Yeah, well it’s not a challenge for those young guys; they just fly right down there. It’s more fun for us. To see how far we can go. Anyway. I hurt my shoulder … ”

“Your shoulder?!”

“Yeah, but he wiped out pretty bad at the bottom, don’t know how much hand shaking he’ll be doing these days … ”

“Might be the end of his curling career … ”

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And the conversation spun on from there about past near misses, heroic injuries and the epic 2-mile toboggan run from the hay field to the barnyard. One story blended into the next the way they do when you get an old guy rolling in memories with a friend who’s lived up the hill from him his entire life and can always be counted on to help with things like roundup, keys locked in cars, or kittens stuck behind refrigerators.

My favorite is the time he spent the evening at our house in the dark sitting on the floor in the living room while Dad sat in his easy chair, both holding BB guns pointed at the open cabinet under the sink waiting for the unwelcome pack rat they were hunting to make his next and final appearance, a really great scene in the wonderfully ordinary story of their long friendship.

“Well, if there’s a chance to go sledding I’m taking it,” Dad said when someone swung back around to ask how his shoulder was feeling.

And I think that might be the moral of the story, and maybe of friendship in general, no matter how old and reckless you get.

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A heavy dose of escape…

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Yesterday afternoon, when Husband came home from work I escaped.

Yeah. I said it. Escaped. That’s the right word.  Some days around here are easier than others, and I think this baby is getting more teeth God help me, so I left her, and the man who helped make her, to it.

And I headed to the badlands.

Because I hadn’t been there in a while. Because  I was feeling overwhelmed in this house that’s never going to be baby proof enough. Because being a mom is hard sometimes.

Being a work from home mom to a baby who just learned to crawl is nearly impossible.

Because I needed some inspiration. A good breath. A minute.

Because it was a beautiful night and I didn’t want to miss out on it.

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The badlands are right in our backyard and the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is about a 45 mile drive from the ranch, but if I were a bird it wouldn’t take me nearly as long to fly there along the river.

I wished I was a bird yesterday evening as I drove through the park slowly with the windows open watching the rain clouds build up on the horizon, wondering how long it might pour on me and this landscape that has nothing to do but soak up the sky.

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Then I was feeling sort of bummed about it, about the rain. Like, finally I get out here and I won’t get the light bouncing off the buttes. I won’t get a sunset. I won’t get the great shadows the sun creates in the canyons. I won’t get to see it in all its late summer glory.

I won’t get what I want out of this little trip.

And I was right. I didn’t get what I wanted.

I got more.

Because just before the sky let loose a smattering of rain on a girl standing in the long grass, hair whipping across my face, a rainbow appeared like they tend to do out of nowhere and it stayed long enough for me get to know it a bit.

And to shake the boulder that unexplainably had been sitting heavy on my shoulders for the last few days.

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But sometimes you do and you don’t take it. And that’s not ok.

I was reminded of that last night. Because I almost didn’t take the drive out there. I felt a little guilty about it. Like I should stay home and cook supper. Like it was going to be too late and the house was a mess. Like I had lots of work I could get done after the baby went down for the night. Like I was so tired.

But I went. I went because I wanted to. I went because it wasn’t asking much.

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Taking moments to exist in this wild space has always my best therapy. My best drug. And I got a heavy dose last night.

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And I’ve learned a heavy dose of escape makes the return so much sweeter…

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On Music and Motherhood

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Last week I packed up my guitar and my baby and the entire contents of both of our closets and headed out to the eastern part of the state to perform a couple really cool and completely different shows.

It was a memorable week of music for so many reasons. First, I’m still getting used to how fun and chaotic and hard it is to cart around a baby on these jobs that become adventures when you add tasks like changing diapers in parking lots and late night delirious giggle fests because the girl won’t sleep when there’s action.

But taking my mom with (or Granny Nanny, as we so lovingly refer to her) is the key to making any of it work at all. And after we met up with dad mid-week, leaving Husband at home to make sure the cows don’t get into my garden, the four of us navigated a schedule that included rehearsals and concerts and finding our way through the construction zone that becomes North Dakota in the summertime.

And in between those things we spent a beautiful day at the lake cabin with my grandparents, took Edie swimming,

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shopped for what the heck I was going to wear because I hadn’t decided yet and none of the five dresses I packed were going to work, ate pizza, got our hair done, met up with cousins and spent mom’s retirement on clothes for the baby. Seriously I had to physically take things out of her hands and put them back on the shelves because

#1: I don’t have room in Edie’s closet for all of this and more importantly

#2: We didn’t have room in the car.

Nope. After dad met us with the sound system, his guitar and his tiny little duffle bag, it took everything I know about construction and geometry (which is pretty much nothing) to get us all to fit with the doors closed.

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So naturally, at our last stop at the beautiful Dakota Sun Gardens Winery where we sang, mom bought two big baskets. One for my garden, because, you know, my birthday’s coming up, and one for her sister because it was yellow and gold and she works at NDSU.

Only the Veeder clan would have to unload the entire contents of a big SUV (shopping bags, three pairs of boots, a box of diapers, a collection of hand-me-down toys from my cousins, four suitcases, a stroller, two bags of caramel corn and the kitchen sink) on the lawn outside a beautiful venue in order to retrieve the guitars and sound system so we could get the party started.

Yup, we bring the class.

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There was a point right before I went up to sing that evening after helping mom wrestle the wiggling, screaming, overtired baby so that we could deal with her poop explosion (in the front seat of the car parked at the entrance of that beautiful place so that each guest could be greeted by a stench and baby crying just like they planned) that I looked at my friend and said something like, “I’m not sure this is all worth the hassle.”

I was sweating and disheveled and hadn’t even really thought about a set list.

But then, I was looking at one of my best friends who I don’t get to see very often. I was playing music on her home turf and she brought her family, baby boy included, who I adore (and spent a good part of my two hour gig staring at). And Edie chilled out as soon as she was up and about again, smiling her big smile at everyone. And she got to hang with her other gramma and aunt who made the trip all the way to the middle of the state to be with her, experience a unique place and listen to the music.

And I got to sing next to my dad and drink wine and tell stories to a captive crowd who were just so lovely.

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And the night before I stood on a big, beautiful stage while a song I wrote on the back of a horse came to life as a symphony of strings and horns and everything in between swept in behind me as I sang to a packed crowd in my boots and new dress under a setting sun.

It was an experience of a lifetime to have that many musicians, so much talent sitting in each of those chairs, take my notes and make them soar like that.

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In my wildest songwriter dreams, the ones I’ve been concocting out on in the hills singing at the top of my lungs since I was a little girl, I couldn’t have imagined it the way it was that night.

(Listen here…thanks dad for the recording…)

And I know it sounds like it’s all about me and the music, and maybe that week it was.

But I remember having a conversation with my husband about whether or not, after this baby was born, I would be able to continue working like this. Living out here in the middle of nowhere not many of my singing or speaking jobs are close to home.

But he told me he would help in whatever way he could. He said he couldn’t see any reason why not. And my family has taken the same plan of support and I couldn’t be more grateful. Because I think they see the value in it, not because it’s something that I want to do (and certainly not because it’s going to make me rich and famous) but in my history of performing I can say it’s made us some really funny and special memories, ones that we wouldn’t have otherwise.

And last week it proved to be true once again, sending us to see my grandparents one more time that summer, knowing they were in that big crowd listening, giving my cousin and her kids the chance to spend an entire evening with baby Edie, allowing my parents quality time with their granddaughter and sending me to meet and perform with some of the most talented musicians in the region.

 (With Blind Joe, a North Dakota singer and recent contestant on NBC’s The Voice, who also performed with the Symphony that night)

And the music gave my friend and I a chance to see each other again, my mother-in-law an excuse to take a road trip to see her sister and my aunt-in-law and excuse to do a girl’s night with friends.

And last week it reminded me that it never goes perfectly smooth when you have a kid in tow, but it is so worth it to hang on to the part of yourself that drives you.

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Even though it’s hard, as parents, I think remembering to feed our passions makes us a better family at the end of the day.

Even if the day doesn’t end until you roll into the driveway at 2 am on a Friday night in a car packed to the brim.

Yup, we’re still having fun so we’re off to do it again this week…

 

How to make wild raspberry dessert

How to make wild raspberry dessert

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Step 1:
Wake up in the morning to a happy husband, a well-rested niece and a smiling baby. Snuggle the baby. Play and roll around with her on the floor. Put her in her high chair so she can feed herself blueberry puffs. Hear your husband say, “Man, it would be nice to have a blueberry muffin right now.” Remember you have blueberries in the fridge.

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Step 2:
Locate a blueberry muffin recipe with the help of your niece. Preheat the oven and read the directions while your niece mixes up the ingredients. Think that maybe bacon and eggs would go good with fresh blueberry muffins. Because you always have bacon in the house.

Step 3:
Proceed with the bacon cooking while blueberry muffins bake.

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Step 4:
Crack and fry some perfectly over easy eggs. Find a double yolker. Declare it good luck.

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Step 5:
Pour some orange juice, put the baby in her high chair, make a plate and gather around the table. Declare that Martha Stewart has nothing on you.

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Step 7:
Hear Pops say something about all the raspberries out in the pasture. Decide that they can’t all go to the birds.

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Step 6:
Put the dishes in the sink pull on your jeans and boots. Strap the baby to your chest, douse skin in bug spray and sunscreen and head out the door with your niece and the dogs. Declare it a beautiful morning. Declare that it’s sort of hot though.

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Step 7:
Peel your eyes for raspberries. Locate raspberries in the thorny brush below where the juneberries, bullberries and chokecherries grow. Watch the dogs disappear in and out of the brush patches chasing phantom rabbits and birds and taking a break from the heat. Find it funny.

(Chicken dinner for you if you can spot Dolly down there…)

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Step 8:
Send the niece in to the deep brush to get the fat berries.

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Check your back pocket for the baggie you brought along. Realize you dropped it somewhere. Take off your hat. Decide that will do.

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Step 9:
Pick a berry. Eat a berry. Put a berry in the hat. Swat a fly. Pull a thorn. Pick a berry. Eat a Berry. Put a berry in the hat.

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Step 10:
Repeat Step 9 like a hundred or so times.

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Step 11:
Check to make sure the baby strapped to your chest isn’t eating the berries too. Pick up the toy she dropped in the thick brush for the third time.

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Step 12:
Wipe the sweat. Pick a thorn out of the niece’s hand. Eat a berry. Check your stash. Wonder if that’s enough to make anything. Declare it officially hot out now. Eat a berry. Climb the hill to the teepee rings to catch some breeze.

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Step 13:
Realize the baby dropped the toy again and now it’s out in the wild pasture to be found 100 years from now, along with all Pops’ missing gloves and tools.

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Step 14:
Head back to the house, noticing the beautiful wildflowers along the way.

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Step 15:
Strip off your clothes and check for ticks. Strip off the baby’s clothes and check for ticks. Put her on the floor to play.

Step 16:
Rinse the berries.

Step 17:
Eat a few more

Step 18:
Look up some recipes online for raspberry dessert, trying for the perfect concoction that doesn’t interfere with the integrity of the raspberry.

Step 19:
Eat a couple more raspberries.

Step 20:
Deny every suggested recipe found…

Step 20:
Decide that there is no dessert you can make that tastes as good as a wild raspberry itself.

Step 21:
Eat more raspberries

Step 22:
Have lunch. Put the baby down for a nap. Putz around the house. Wait for Husband to get home..

Step 23:
Give the baby a bath. Put her in her robe. Decide she looks like an adorable old man. Feed her something yummy. Rock her to sleep.

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Step 24:
Grill brats. Eat on the deck.

Step 25:
Leave the dishes for the husband.

Step 26:
Go Riding

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Step 27:
Declare it a beautiful night.

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Step 28:
Listen to your niece tell you stories and wonder where the time went and when she grew up so quickly.

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Step 29:
Head back to the barn. Let the horses out. Walk to the house. Strip down. Check for ticks.

Step 26:
Eat some raspberries.

Step 27:
Declare it a good day.

Step 28:
Sleep tight. Good night.

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A Spring Dinosaur Hunt

As the weather’s warmed up a bit, we finally get to spend some time outside. And it seems I was given the right baby because Edie loves it as much as I do.

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And as much as the dogs it seems. Every time I put her in the carrier, eyes facing the world in front of her, she calms. She looks. She kicks her legs. She laughs at the dogs running in front of her. She looks up at the sky and smiles.

I wish it were spring and 70 here forever, and maybe that she would stay little, so that I could take her out like this every day.

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A few weeks back on a pretty nice day (yeah, these photos are from a few weeks back…I’m not as quick on the updates as I used to be) Little Man came over to visit and we all went out on a walk, Little Man, Little Sister, Pops, Edie and I.

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Little Man wore Husband’s cap to keep the sun from his eyes and Little Sister wore Edie because when she’s here the two are stuck together like glue.

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Edie wore her hat and and sunglasses and other hat and snowsuit of course. Because it was  warm but not that warm. And windy. And sunny. A typical North Dakota spring day and a girl’s gotta dress the part.

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Pops grabbed a walking stick.

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I grabbed a camera and we were off on a hike up the hill and past the dam and through the trees.
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A hike that soon turned into an imaginary dinosaur hunt where we all got assignments and duties from the Pre-schooler.

Pops was the hunter, Little Man was the scientist, I was the photographer and Little Sister and Edie needed to be on the lookout.

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Maybe when Little Man grows up he’ll be an actual scientist, but he’d also make a pretty good movie director.

And while we were hunting for bones we looked for spring.

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The weeks that passed since taking this walk and taking these pictures has greened things up considerably. Edie has even gotten to go on a walk without her second hat and snowsuit, so summer’s just around the corner.

And I have so many things to say about spring out here. You know me.  I want to tell you how I got back in the saddle for the first time since finding out I was pregnant over a year ago and it was the best therapy in the world. And how I saw and heard a rattlesnake outside our fence the other day while I was on a walk and it scared the shit out of me. And then how we watched two elk come down to water in the dam outside our house and no matter how many times we see them it’s still pretty magical.

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And how the blossoms smell and how, when I call Gus back, Dolly crouches down beside me and waits to tackle him when he arrives. Every. Singe. Time. And it’s hilarious and Gus deserves all the pestering he’s receiving.

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I want to tell you how I love this little boy, who just graduated from Pre-school and is on to Kindergarten in the fall, who wants to be a cop and a scientist and a cowboy and everything, he can’t pick just one.

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And there’s more I have to say, you know there is, but the baby is waking in her crib an it’s time for our morning snuggle. So I’ll just leave you with this…

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And this.

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Happy Thursday and Happy Spring. May you find time to get out and enjoy it with your nephew and Little Sister and your Pops and your baby and your dogs…or whoever you love who you can convince to go dinosaur hunting with you…

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With a little help from the best…

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Edie’s getting a new perspective on the world these days.

The weather has been warmer and I’ve scheduled a few appearances out of town, so that means road time, restaurant time, hotel time, shopping time and the best part, auntie and gramma time.

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They are the only reasons there is even a prayer for me to continue to travel and sing with a baby in tow.

And last weekend they earned their keep as they endured loading all four of us and our suitcases, a guitar, a giant stroller, a car seat and thirty-seven changes of clothes for the baby into Husband’s giant pickup because the tire was low on my car. They held their pee without complaint for the three hour drive because the baby was sleeping and we didn’t want to disrupt a good thing only to have to pull off the interstate to feed her twenty miles from our destination just like I predicted.

Because a screaming baby can test even the most loving aunt, gramma and mother…

It’s a small price to pay to have the little cherub along though. Because 90% of the time she’s a drooly dream who makes everything harder and more fun. We got the hotel and just stared at her on the bed, hanging out in her diaper practicing rolling over.

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And leave it to Edie to wait until I’m gone to bust out her big tricks. While I was waiting to go on air at the North Dakota Today show the next morning, my little sister was texting me video from the hotel room of the little turkey rolling all over the bed.

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Apparently she needs a bigger audience.

And after one live TV appearance, one terrifying trip through the carwash with the giant pickup, one equally terrifying trip through the narrow Starbucks drive through, lunch, a nursing/puking/outfit changing session in the parking lot of the liquor store while my mom and sister shopped the buy one/get one sale…

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and a meltdown in the car seat from one end of town to another, we finally made it to the mall where we promised ourselves a quick trip.

Mom just needed to exchange some things. Little Sister just needed to look at some boots. I just needed a couple new shirts and ingredients to make some bars for the Fireman’s fundraiser the next day…

But also I needed makeup. And mom needed a giant pack of paper towels for the store and an equally giant box of toilet paper. And speaking of boxes, she might as well pick up that plastic box for the deck so Pops can store his grilling tools out of the weather. He just leaves them outside you know…

Oh, and I guess she also needed a bucket and a mop. Apparently it’s spring cleaning at the store…

And while she was trying to fit that all in the cart I figured I should pick up some more socks for Edie. And then pick up Edie out of the stroller. Because the stroller is a little too much like the carseat and, well, she has a short tolerance for such confinement.

So you can about picture it. Three women, one pushing an overflowing cart full of cleaning supplies, one pulling a stroller full of purses and coats instead of a baby like God intended and the other one wandering around aimlessly, a burp rag over her shoulder, holding the baby in one hand and a cell phone in the other, texting to locate the other two women she arrived with.

I swear, we passed two moms strolling tiny twin babies in the mall that day who both looked like they just arrived from a spa vacation compared to the hot mess we had going on.

And that was before we attempted to sort all our treasures in the checkout line and fit them into the pickup.

Really. Only the Veeder women could fill a one-ton, long box pickup to the brim after one overnight stay in the big town.

It’s like we never get off the ranch.

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So that was Friday.

Saturday mom came with me to take care of Edie while I sang at an event that evening, and Edie only screamed once for no apparent reason and didn’t require an outfit change, so that was good.

I however, emerged from a back room feeding to sign CDs with my dress hiked up past my hips, puke on my shoulder and my bra unlatched.

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I got distracted.

I’m sure no one noticed.

But then this was Sunday.

70-degree Sunday.

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Or as Little Sister declared as she walked the gravel road with my baby strapped like a little kangaroo to her body…”What Sundays are made for…”

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I couldn’t agree more.

And now it’s Monday. Time to rest up for the weekend.

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Because I’m raising a singing, kicking, screaming, wiggly, drooly, road warrior…with a little help from the best…

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Sunday Column: On weather and roots

Badlands Sunset

The sky out here is volatile. Perfectly pleasant one minute, and violent the next, those of us who grew up here in the north country have a sort of “expect the unexpected” instinct born in us when it comes to the changing weather.

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But it doesn’t mean we don’t get caught off guard. Just because we know that at any moment the clouds could build, one on another on another, and send the air swirling above our heads bending branches or sending hailstones flying, doesn’t mean we’re always ready for it.
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But that’s the thing about this sky. As soon as you come to trust that another calm 80 degree day will pile up on another 80 degree calm day,

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you head to the lake with your dad’s pontoon and friends from out of state to show them another side of the prairie, and just like that you’re caught out in the middle of the big water trying to out-boat a wall of hail and rain while a tornado warning buzzes on your smart phone and your little sister’s heart proceeds to lodge directly in her throat.

And suddenly I remember why I am a prairie person and not a boat person.

Rain on buttes

Because if I were on a horse in that storm, I’d give him his head, close my eyes and he’d run us both home.

On a boat? Well… on a boat on the big lake with friends working to get to know this foreign place we call North Dakota  I felt so completely out of my element.

I wanted to show them the world that I knew and what we do out here when it’s hot. How we find ourselves a beach and set up shop. How we dig in the sand or the mud, pick rocks and sip drinks and thank God for the lake in the heat of the day.

And then the sky turned black and chased us down and everything I knew about what we do on a hot day blew away in the waves with the wind…

But when it was all said and done and we were back safely to shore, wind swept and nervously laughing, I think maybe I caught a glimpse of what it might be feel like to be, like the new friends who braved the adventure with us, on unfamiliar ground…

Coming Home: Wishing for solid ground in an unfamiliar place
by Jessie Veeder
8-2-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

The dark blue clouds sparked with lightning on the horizon in front of us, and the deep rumble of the thunder seemed to shoot up from the ground below our horses’ feet to settle and roar smack in the middle of my 10-year-old heart.

It was one of those calm and sticky summer evenings, the perfect combination of humidity, heat and timing just right for brewing a storm out of thin air. And so there we were out chasing cattle, my little sister on her white pony, my dad and me, miles from the safety of the barnyard, staring up at the sky growing darker by the second.

It was my first lesson in remaining calm in an uncontrollable situation that escalated quickly, the types of situations that, out here, are generally always caused by the sky or an animal.

Because there’s nothing nature does better than teach us lessons about our own human vulnerability.

Against an angry thousand-pound bull or a cloud full of hail stones, we are nothing but skin and bones, muscle and a built-in instinct to survive that we humans don’t exercise very often.

But out here, the animals do.

“These horses know how to get home,” Dad said to us, his silhouette darkening against a flashing horizon. “I know you can’t see the ground, but they can feel it. Just let their heads go and they will get you home.”

And there was our lesson in trust—in our dad, in our animal and in the inborn instinct that is survival.

Last night, the sky was brewing up storms across the state. The air was thick outside our house and the weatherman on TV predicted the unpredictable. There will be wind. There will be rain. There will be storms tonight.

The phones and Internet conversations began buzzing in a Boomtown filled with people new to the prairie. Where do we go? What do we do? When will it hit?

I’m a woman born and grown on the sweeping open prairies under a sky that will softly kiss the hilltops with light one minute, only to turn around to swallow up the land in a fury of wind and rain the next. I know this. I’ve seen its volatility and in some ways I’ve blamed its constant impulsiveness on my own. How could the drama of such sweetness and rage not get under my skin?

But these days, home on these familiar plains, I’m a minority. For the thousands of new residents who have come north from the rocky soil of a mountain range, the sandy beaches of the coast, or the dry heat of the desert, the roll of the thunder coming up from the horizon to rest in your gut is not a familiar feeling. And it can be terrifying to know that under this big open sky in the middle of America, anything can happen.

Even those of us whose roots are long planted here are still at risk of being taken off guard.

And so I’m thinking of my first lesson in the danger of our sky today, because last weekend, while taking new friends out on the boat on the big lake in the heat of the day I looked up at that horizon and watched white clouds turn to black, lightning flash, heard the thunder crack and felt the waves grow bigger underneath us as my husband put the throttle down to escape the white wall of hailstones and rain that were chasing us toward the shore on the other side of the lake.

I turned to my friend, a former Utah resident who has spent the past nine months discovering and learning about her new home on the prairie. I wanted to reassure her, but as I looked up at the darkening sky I felt my usual confidence in my home dissipate and my vulnerability swell on that water.

I wished desperately for solid ground and a trusted horse that would know his footing and bring us all home.

And for the first time, I think I began to understand what it might feel like to dig new roots in this fickle and mysterious place.

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From Lost to Found: A Pug Story

Chug

Search “Chug the Pug” on this blog and you will find countless entries on this little black bean of a dog that came into our lives to help us through a rough patch, and then continued on his merry way,

peeing in my husband’s shoes, losing an eye to a porcupine, snuggling up with the kittens,

chasing bulls out of the yard, showing up the bird dogs with his pheasant retrieval skills, snoring, snorting, howling and just all around creating hilarious chaos and merriment wherever he went.

He was a character in our lives out here at the ranch, one I loved to torture by dressing him up in a Santa suit and making him pose for countless photos.

A lap dog by breeding, Chug the Pug hated to miss out on an opportunity for adventure, proving time and time again that there are no limits, just mind-set.

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Chug the Pug, my search partner


My new readers may not have heard about our chubby little one-eyed pet because about a year and a half ago Chug decided to make his rounds to the nearest rigs and oil sites around our ranch to meet his neighbors, get his belly scratched and feast on table scraps and the occasional steak while he waited for us to come and find him.

It was a problem for us, all the kindness he was shown on these rigs, because it meant more wandering for an animal who could previously be trusted to stay within the safe limits of the farm yard.

And it meant that one day, when we went to retrieve him, he was nowhere to be found.

After a couple months of my husband taking daily trips up and down the highway, passing our name around to oil field workers who move in and off site by the days and hours, and checking with neighbors, I finally decided that Chug the Pug had likely hitched a ride with a lonely trucker and was sitting shot gun with a bandana around his head an his tongue hanging out the window, off to find a bigger adventure.

I liked that story better than any alternative. It helped me come to terms with the fact that I’d never see him again. 

And that’s the way that it was… that was the story I’d tell…

Until a couple weeks ago when I found out the rest of the story….

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Coming Home: Lost dog finds his way to the right home
by Jessie Veeder
7-26-15
Forum Communications

I sat behind the desk at my office and picked up the ringing phone. Young and determined, we were in our third year of marriage, had just moved back to our home state, just lost our first pregnancy and were chin deep in renovating our first home in an attempt to get our grown-up story on track. 

For two years our lives were covered in sawdust, paint and power tools. We worked during the day and in the evening we re-seeded the lawn, built a new staircase, laid carpet and lost two more pregnancies along the way.

You need to take out a wall? Get your hammer and break it down.

You want a baby? There wasn’t a doctor in the state at the time that could give us the blueprint for that.

When I picked up the phone that day, I heard my husband say, “I just saw a poster. There are pug puppies for sale. Little black ones,” he said. “I’m going to call.”

So he called. And two weeks later he brought home a little black smush of a puppy with a pink tongue and curly, wiggly tail.

Because we needed a distraction. Something else to love.

Fast-forward through six years filled with home renovations, new jobs, three more lost pregnancies, and a move out to the ranch, and that little pug became the star of our lives and the stories on my blog, his cow-chasing, raccoon-wrangling, porcupine-fighting adventures winning over the hearts of my readers across the country.

Until a year and a half ago when he decided to explore a rig over the hill from our house and didn’t come home. When my husband’s nightly searches didn’t yield any answers, I came to terms with the fact that I would never see Chug the pug again.

Until last week when I looked down at my phone and found a message from a stranger staring back at me.

“I think we have your dog Chug. Our friend found him on a rig and brought him home. It selfishly breaks my heart to message you but I just read your blog and I knew I had to … you can call me …”

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I dialed the number.

“He just loves cats,” she said.

“I know,” I said.

“And he loves to go out on the boat and swim … We bought him a life jacket … The neighbors adore him. He sleeps in our bed with us … he’s well loved …”

And then the line went quiet. Two strangers, 60 miles apart, connected by an animal, each with her own bond, not knowing where to go from here.

So we made plans to meet up the next day. I would be through Dickinson on my way home from my 20-week ultrasound, halfway through a pregnancy we never thought we’d know with the chance to see the dog that helped us through the worst of things.

I anxiously knocked on the door and was greeted by a woman about my age, a tiny little yorkie and a one-eyed, barrel-chested black pug with a little extra squish around the middle.

I reached down to scratch his chin and pull on his soft ears, and he looked up at me, as well-loved as a dog could be.

I looked at the woman with her clasped hands and nervous smile. She invited me in, introduced me to her friends who had gathered for moral support or to be witness to this uncommon story, and we all started gushing about this small world, missed opportunities and how my online documentation of Chug led her friend to help find me.

And then there was that silence again.

She spoke.

“I contacted you because if it was my dog I would want to know what happened to him. This is a tough situation, but …. we can’t have children, and these dogs are like our kids.”

I looked at Chug rolling around with the yorkie on the floor, then down at my growing belly and back at the woman whose struggle for a family was all too familiar and fresh in my mind.

“Maybe he came into your life for a reason,” I said.

Judging by the sighs in the room and the tears in my eyes, I think we all agreed.

And so the decision was made. I said my goodbyes and pointed my car toward a life we could only dream of when we first called that little dog ours.

A girl needs a dog